OTTAWA — Police chiefs say methamphetamine is fuelling a crime wave in some of Western Canada’s biggest cities as use of the highly addictive drug skyrockets across the Prairies.
Calgary’s interim police Chief Steve Barlow told a House of Commons health committee Tuesday that the city’s crime rate is going through the roof as the price of meth drops.
“When I look at the tools on an officer’s belt, there isn’t a single one to help a person in the throes of addiction,” Barlow said. “We will not arrest our way out of this problem.”
Meth is behind some recent violent and unprovoked attacks, Barlow said. On one occasion, he said a woman stabbed three random people in 20 minutes. In another, a senior sitting on a downtown bench was stabbed multiple times.
A woman was left paralyzed last month after she was pushed into the path of an oncoming transit train. The suspect is believed to have been high on meth, Barlow said.
The drug is also motivating residential break-ins, car theft and other property crimes.
It’s driven by a rise in the amount of meth on the street and a dramatic drop in the addictive drug’s cost — to about $50 a gram now from about $150 in 2015. That means one hit of meth costs about $5.
Officers are worn out and more resources are needed to address the root causes of addiction and to help people get clean, Barlow told the committee.
He predicts 2018 will see a record number of meth seizures in his city — more than 1,769 — which is 130 per cent above the five-year average.
Winnipeg’s police Chief Danny Smyth told the committee his officers have seized more than 20 kilograms of meth this year — nearly double what was seized in 2017.
Barlow and Smyth said the meth on their streets is being smuggled into British Columbia from Mexico.
Drug-related crime, in turn, is causing a big backlog in responses to calls for service in Winnipeg, because officers are tied up in health-care facilities with meth users, Smyth said.
“It prevents us from getting into the community and doing proactive work.”
Numbers from Winnipeg’s health authority show a 1,200 per cent increase in people going to hospitals because of methamphetamine — up from 12 in April 2013 to 218 this past April.
Documents obtained by the Manitoba NDP under freedom-of-information legislation also show a rise in communicable diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis which are associated with intravenous drug use.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman told the committee Ottawa must include meth in a national strategy on illicit drugs, strengthen border protection and provide more resources for mental health.
“Meth doesn’t distinguish between the area of the city in which you reside, your family’s income,” he said. “Addictions and mental health really know no bounds and we are seeing that here in the city of Winnipeg.”
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
The Canadian Press
New app uses AI to help Calgary medical students practise interacting with patients
A Calgary medical student has developed a new app that allows future doctors to work on their diagnostic and communication skills before they set up their practices. Eddie Guo, seen in an undated handout photo, is a second-year student at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. He says that one of the challenges in medical school is becoming better at interacting with patients. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Calgary
By Bill Graveland in Calgary
A Calgary medical student has developed an app that allows future doctors to work on their diagnostic and communication skills before they set up their practices.
Eddie Guo, a second-year student at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, said one of the challenges beyond the book learning in medical school is becoming better at interacting with patients.
As a result, he’s turned to the rapidly growing area of artificial intelligence to create a number of virtual patients, with a variety of health conditions, that a student can talk to.
“It’s good to get more than just two or four hours of the practice we get in medical school to really be able understand what it’s like to communicate in a real-life scenario,” said Guo.
“We think it’s a good idea to have more than a few hours of practice before actually going out into the wild and seeing patients for the first time.”
Guo created a program, called OSCE-GPT, where the computer is the patient. Users choose the patient’s gender and can select a scenario or let the computer decide on one for them.
“I’m Ben Johnson and I’ve been having some really bad abdominal pains over the past two days. It’s in the right upper quadrant and it spreads to my back,” said the robotic male voice in the program.
“I’ve also been feeling nauseous and vomiting. I’m here in the emergency department because of the pain.”
The AI patient can answer questions about its condition and, after the conversation, provides feedback to the student along with a list of other questions that could have been asked.
Guo said until he is finally allowed on the medical wards, the only other interactions he gets are with standardized patients, professional actors who present with various conditions.
“As you can imagine, they’re really quite good at their job, but they’re also very expensive,” Guo said.
“We don’t get that much opportunity really to practise speaking with a patient, and so what this app was born out of was a lack of possibility to practise.”
Guo collaborated with medical resident Dr. Mehul Gupta. He said this kind of additional help will make for better doctors.
“One of the things we learn again and again in medical school, and that’s reinforced again in residency, is that the history you take from a patient is almost 99 per cent of the diagnosis that you make and the impression you make on a patient the first time you speak with them is long-lasting,” Gupta said.
“If you have the opportunity to practise to tailor your questions to see how you could have done better, you really do become a better doctor overall.”
Guo said the app is still being upgraded and at this point there is no image of a patient that shows up on the screen. He said he is hoping that things like a chest X-ray, a CT scan or a picture of someone’s skin could be incorporated into the program.
Within the first month of the app’s launch, more than 550 health-care trainees from Canada and across the world including Europe, India, Saudi Arabia and the United States signed on.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.
Encouraging news: Update on E. coli outbreak in Calgary
The Emergency Department at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Hospital at the height of the E. coli outbreak, Sept 7, 2023
As hospital admissions and daily numbers of new E. coli cases continue to decline, health officials are seeing signs that the initial outbreak that affected several Calgary daycares has peaked.
The number of secondary transmissions connected to this outbreak remains low, indicating there is limited transmission of the E. coli bacteria beyond the initial outbreak.
The kitchen connected with the original outbreak remains closed indefinitely. In addition, precautionary measures at specific daycare facilities remain in place. Parents and operators have been made aware of these measures directly and through communication with Alberta Health Services.
“I am relieved every time I hear of a child who is well enough to leave hospital. My heart goes out to each family member who has been impacted, and I want them to know that we will get to the bottom of this. Thank you as well to our front-line staff for supporting these children and their families on the road to recovery.”
“Families have had their lives turned upside down by this outbreak. I’m relieved many of them are seeing their children recover and start to get back to their normal routines. I want to reassure parents they can place their trust in our high-quality child-care system and that they are not alone. We are here to support them in any way we can.”
“We are cautiously optimistic that the outbreak has peaked and that we will continue to see case numbers drop. That said, this does not diminish the fact that we still have some children who remain very ill, and my heart goes out to them, their parents and their loved ones.”
Hospitalizations and cases
As of Sept.19, there were a total of 348 lab-confirmed cases connected to this outbreak, no increase from Sept. 18. Between Sept. 9 and Sept. 14, there was an average increase of 33 new cases a day. Since then, the average case numbers decreased to fewer than four a day to no increase on Sept. 19.
There have been a total of 27 lab-confirmed secondary cases, with no additional secondary cases confirmed, since Sept. 16. Some cases of secondary transmission are common and expected in significant outbreaks such as this.
Currently eight patients are receiving care in hospital, down one from Sept. 18. All these patients have been confirmed as having hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), including two on dialysis (a decrease of one since Sept. 18). All patients are in stable condition and responding to treatment. Front-line health care teams continue to provide the best care and support possible.
A total of 707 children connected to the outbreak have been cleared to return to a daycare facility.
As of Sept. 19, six daycare facilities are under closure or partial closure orders:
- Active Start Country Hills – Dolphin and Starfish preschool classes
- CanCare Childcare – Scenic Acres location – Busy Bees, Bumble Bees and Butterflies classrooms
- CEFA Early Learning Calgary South – JK 3-1 classroom
- Renert Junior Kindergarten – all four Junior K classrooms
- 1st Class Childcare Shawnessy – “Main daycare” area is being closed
- Calgary JCC Child Care – a closure order was issued for infant and toddler rooms on Sept. 15
Closure orders were rescinded for Classrooms 3 and 4 at Vik Academy on the afternoon of Sept. 18 following negative test results for E. coli.
Additionally, while MTC Daycare site is not being closed, affected children and staff in Prominade and McKenzie classrooms are being notified that they are excluded from attending all child-care facilities until they test negative for E. coli and remain symptom-free.
All closure orders are posted on the Calgary Zone Alberta Health Services website.
Initial results suggest these cases affecting additional daycare facilities are predominantly cases of secondary transmission. Either these new cases were in contact with children from the original daycare or children from the original daycares were in contact with the facility.
Parents and staff from all the daycare facilities involved are being provided with information about what to do if they experience symptoms, test positive or have concerns about the health and safety of their child.
The public health investigation into this outbreak continues, and work continues to identify the source of the outbreak. Additionally, the ministries of Health and Children and Family Services are conducting a review of all shared kitchens serving child-care facilities across Alberta.
The food histories of more than 1,150 children and 250 daycare staff are being reviewed by public health officials. This includes those who became ill and those who did not, all of whom were at the 11 affected daycares between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31.
Guidance to parents
If children develop symptoms, including bloody diarrhea, families are encouraged to visit an emergency department. If a child is not symptomatic, do not take them to hospital. Families with concerns or questions can call Health Link at 8-1-1 or contact their family physician for advice and support.
In addition, Alberta’s government is providing families with a one-time payment of $2,000 per child enrolled in the original facilities that were closed due to the outbreak.
Alberta’s government is committed to working with parents and operators through this challenging time and encourage them to reach out to Child Care Connect at 1-844-644-5165 with questions or concerns.
- Supporting Those affected by the E. coli Outbreak (Sept. 15, 2023)
- Update on E. coli outbreak in Calgary (Sept. 12, 2023)
- Alberta Health Services – E. coli Outbreak
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